Neal Morse, Chicago, October 12, 2012.

Last night, fellow Progarchist Mark Widhalm, our lovely and patient wives, and I had the wonderful privilege of enjoying six hours of live progressive rock.  We saw District 97, Three Friends (Gentle Giant), and Neal Morse.

Here are two photos from the event.  The first is of Three Friends.  The second is of Neal Morse.

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Sorry about the poor quality of the photos; I took these with my Nokia phone.  I also got to see Chicago celebrities (well, at least they’re celebrity in the Birzer house), Mike and Sarah D’Virgilio.  I glimpsed Neal Morse’s manager and Facebook friend, Chris Thompson, from a distance, but he was a man understandably on a mission, and I didn’t want to interfere with his direction of the show.  “Hey Chris, it’s me, Brad, your Facebook friend!”  Yes, I can be obnoxious, but this might have gone a little too far, even for me.

A few quick impressions–Gary Green was one of the single finest guitarists I’d ever seen as was his bassist, Lee Pomeroy (of It Bites).  The music of Gentle Giant was rather mind-boggling and profound.  It was, I think, rock at its highest art.  Steve Hayward has been encouraging me to immerse myself.  Add Steve’s suggestion with actual performance, and I’m sold.  Now, another band to explore in its entirety

But, we went originally to see Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy.  The other music was just an excellent fringe benefit.

Neal Morse is a wonderfully talented madman.  I pretty much hung on his every word and action on stage.  His energy, his talent, and is ability to direct and lead his band is probably beyond compare.  While I’m sure I’m not the first person to place supernatural ability on a great show man, but Morse’s showmanship did seem to be animated by something well beyond (and above) this world.  I know this probably sounds absurd, but there was glow about him that I’ve only seen (once at most) on truly holy persons.

And, while I’ve always considered Mike Portnoy one of the world’s best drummers (along with Nick D’Virgilio and Neil Peart), I’ve always also thought his studio records seem more mechanical than soulful.  Watching him in action convinced me, rather strongly, that he’s a man as full of soul as he is of ability.  In judging his abilities, I realized I should never allow his precision and perfectionism to detract from his power and radiance of soul.  Having him and Neal Morse on the same stage was overwhelming, to say (write) the least.  These are two powerful personalities who served as critical poles of incarnate myth.  Because of my seating, I had a perfect view of Morse but a poor one of Portnoy.  Had I been able to choose between one or the other to focus on during the concert, I would’ve been rather torn.

The two men, despite clearly being perfectionists and powerful personalities, are obviously the best and most trusted of friends.  At one point, two obvious Mike Portnoy fans yelled something at the end of a very powerful moment in Morse’s Testimony.  Morse was a bit taken aback (as was the entire audience), and I would guess that the audience as a whole lost a story of some kind because of the interruption.  Portnoy stood up from his drumkit and yelled directly at the two: “There will be no heckling at a Neal Morse concert.”  He did it with great humor and strength.  Needless to write, no one yelled like that again.

Everyone in Morse’s band, not surprisingly, was an expert and multi-talented musician.  Randy George didn’t move around much, but he played his bass with confidence and skill.  All of the musicians, though, were equally good, and the most impressive part of the whole night were the vocal multipart harmonies which Morse directed with passion.

This was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen (Three Friends as well as Neal Morse).  Yes, I’m still basking in it.

7 thoughts on “Neal Morse, Chicago, October 12, 2012.

  1. carleolson

    I spent the evening watching “Looper”, a very violent, propulsive, and—on occasion—philosophically engaging movie. Lots of language, gore, and such, but with some surprisingly thoughtful themes regarding redemption, motherhood, and the darkness of hedonism.

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  2. Lori

    Wow, were we at the same show? Three Friends was terrible – the best part was the fire alarm going off during their set because it was an excuse to leave the room. They also played far too long.

    Neal and Mike are fantastic musicians but the music was SO loud – way too loud – that none of us could enjoy it.

    Also, Mike yelled “No heckling at a prog show” and it was complete in jest and good fun.

    Overall, I’ll give it a C. My husband, who has seen Neal live 10+ times, said it was the weakest show he’s been to so far.

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  3. Lonnie Samora

    Great review, I couldn’t agree with you more! I have had the privilege of seeing Neal twice in Denver, the Testimony 2 and the Momentum Tour, and phenomenal is how I would describe it! I loved Neal’s comment about Mike Portnoy he made at the show in Denver when he said “every song with Mike on drums is a drum solo”. Certainly the best drummer I have ever seen! I love the new band; Neal always surrounds himself with incredible musicians, even if you never heard of them before, they are always amazing!

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